Beginning in the late 1800s, governments were formed and decisions were made that would change the lives of the Kwikwetlem people - changes that would be felt for decades. The chief of the Kwikwetlem was Chief Kwikwetlem William. He had been the Chief when the first Europeans had arrived and had seen many changes throughout his life, as he lived almost 110 years.11 Much of what he saw was very detrimental to his people.
Changes by the Colonial government made life for the natives continuously more difficult. The Colonial government wanted to confirm sovereignty in areas where Europeans were now living. When the Colony of British Columbia was declared in 1858, the pace of change increased dramatically. For the Kwikwetlem people, this happened in 1861, when the government established Coquitlam Indian Reserve #1 and #2 with a total of 208.5 acres set aside for the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s people by Governor Douglas. Each family of five was allotted ten acres of land; that was clearly not enough land for a people used to moving from different locations to hunt, fish and survive. The federal government later asked that BC reverse this decision and give 80 acres to each family of 5. The BC decision was discussed but it was not changed.
Salmon Hanging From A Steel Rail, Caught Presumably By The Fisherman Holding The Fishing Rod. Photo Taken Sometime Between 1909 And 1911.
In 1870, the colonial government of B.C. unilaterally denied the existence of aboriginal title, claiming aboriginal people were too primitive to understand the concept or idea of land ownership. In 1878, the federal government of Canada began to restrict traditional aboriginal fishing
rights, making a new distinction between food and commercial fishing. In 1884, the government of Canada amended the Indian Act to outlaw cultural and religious ceremonies such as the potlatch, which was a major social, economic and political institution of the coastal First Nations of B.C. Soon after, the government introduced a system of permits to govern commercial fishing in Canada, effectively excluding aboriginals from this type of fishing. In 1899 Chief Johnny became Chief of the Kwikwetlem. He was Chief when the BC Electric Company built the province’s first hydro electric dam on Coquitlam Lake in 1913. The dam was needed, partly to provide fresh water to New Westminster. Building the dam there virtually stopped all migrating salmon from getting into the lake to spawn up the many creeks and streams that fed into it. There were five species of salmon that spawned in abundance in Coquitlam Lake before the dam was built, namely the sockeye, coho, chum, steelhead and a now extinct species of salmon unique to Coquitlam Lake. At one time, there were so many salmon, that the river looked black. As Chief Johnny wrote: “If the Creek is taken away from us it will be very hard for us. It is like a man taken [sic] the food out of my cupboard - the creek is our store house. This is the only reason why we don’t want to lose the creek.”12 Without the salmon migrating up the Coquitlam River to Coquitlam Lake, the Kwikwetlem people
The Kwikwetlem First Nation
diseases including measles, mumps, tuberculosis and malaria.9 There is debate among historians about how all this happened, but it is clear that many people died and the native population in some places was only 2/3 of what it had been.10 The Kwikwetlem people say that by the early 1900’s, their nation went from 500 to 78 people, mostly because of smallpox.